So, Earth Day was yesterday. To celebrate, I took a picture and uploaded it to Earth Mosaic. I also commuted 20 miles by myself in a car, and ate my lunch with disposable plastic silverware. Yay!
I took a walk at lunchtime today. My job is almost exactly one mile from Lake Michigan, and I can walk to the beach and back in just over a half-hour…35-40 minutes, say. I leave my desk, hoof it to the water, grab a rock as a totem and hoof it back.
I realized just how much a walk like that signifies one’s basic trust in the world around them. There I am, a mile from anything that belongs to me; a mile from any shelter that will accept me; a mile from any sustenance that’s available to me. I just trust that when I return, it’ll all be there…that I won’t need anything to survive while I am walking. I trust that no cataclysmic events will occur while I am out; that I will not need to kill zombies or grizzly bears; that I will not need to evade guerrillas.
As I was walking, I heard a large airplane, and turned to see a fairly big turboprop circling over town. Shortly, I heard a helicopter and all I thought was, “Hm, must be the Coast Guard.” Sure enough, the familiar orange Aérospatiale appeared overhead. Then it struck me how the exact same sounds would provoke much different behavior in the different war-torn areas of this world. I’m sure that right now in Iraq or Afghanistan, the sound of an approaching helicopter inspires people to scream and dive for cover so as to avoid being a target. The sound of an approaching airplane indicates that something nearby is about to explode. To me…it just inspires a “hmph.”
I leave my home every day with nothing more than a lunch in a bag and the clothes on my back. In days gone by, leaving one’s home involved much more. One could not trust that the means of survival would be available where they went — there were no Burger Kings, no K-Marts and no Shell stations. One took what one needed with them, and and hoped to procure more along the way but did not count in it.
Think “Oregon Trail” here — the early settlers did not expect to refill their supplies along the way. They filled a wagon with all the salt pork, gunpowder and bacon grease that it could carry, and set off on a journey. Today? I throw an egg-salad sandwich and some pudding in a bag and head out for the day, 20 miles from home, and just trust that I can get gasoline if I need it and something to drink if I’m thirsty. It implies a level of comfort and trust in what’s around me, really.
The average American, I’d wager, leaves for work with no means of protecting themselves, no means of procuring food or shelter (other than a credit card and a cell phone) and no way of treating themselves if they become injured or sick. We toddle off, naked to the realities of the world that are always hiding just behind the veneer of our society. We are really just that close to being an active participant in a struggle for survival. One terrorist, one natural disaster, one anything could disrupt everything.
Wow, listen to me…all doomsday-theory and all. I really didn’t mean to go this way when I started. I think I started on this train of thought when we visited Colonial Williamsburg earlier this month, and I read a plaque that said the average limit to a day’s travel in 1799 or so was 80 miles. Mind you, we had just driven 900 miles in two days in order to read that plaque….and had averaged almost 80 miles per each hour that we were on the road. Not to mention that we set off with the clear expectation that food would be available on the road whenever we needed it, as would shelter for the night.
What kind of leap of faith is that, really? Get in your car, drive for 8, maybe 10 hours. Find yourself 400-500 miles from your home. Then simply pull into a hotel, get a room and sleep for the night. We, as a nation of people, simply expect that wherever we are we will be able to find a place to sleep. (in exchange for some money, of course) In the vast majority of the cases…our expectations are met. And it’s really not that big a deal; there are hotels everywhere! Somerset, Pennsylvania. Canfield, Ohio. Mesick, Michigan. Marinette, Wisconsin. Rolla, Missouri. Everywhere — and lots of everywhere is nowheresville…yet there are hotels. And usually at least one Chinese restaurant.